Addicted to being right (and the seven deadly sins of leadership) w/ Jennifer Thornton

Addicted to being right (and the seven deadly sins of leadership) w/ Jennifer Thornton

I’m really excited to share today’s episode featuring Jen Thornton! We dive into the addiction of being right; what it is and how it impacts the leader and the people that they interact with on a regular basis. Our talk today will provide you with a better understanding of why some leaders are the way that they are and as well as some advice to help you avoid the same traps yourself as you grow in your leadership walk. -ZH

Zack Hudson: Jen, welcome to Passing the Baton podcast. So glad to have you with us today.

Jen Thornton: Thank you for having me. It’s going to be fun!

ZH: I agree, I’m looking forward to our time. So to help our Baton Carriers across the world get to know you a little bit; tell us about your journey as a leader and then some things that you’re working on right now that you are excited about.

JT: So, my leadership journey started when I was actually pretty young. I won’t give out my age, but it was before the Internet was popular and everyone hung out the mall and I wanted to work at the mall. I got to work at the mall and I started my career in retail, so I was leading teams and running a good-sized business.

So that started my leadership journey, and I spent about half of my career in operations and retail and the other half of my career in HR.  During the last chapter, I was able to work in great countries like Hong Kong and the UK and Mexico and all over the place had a ton of fun doing it.

But you know, I think what I discovered is it’s hard enough to align executives if you add language barriers and culture barriers….. and it’s really fun trying to align executives, and that’s what I got really passionate about.

Once I really fell in love with that alignment and that process of really strategically looking at talent, I decided to take a leap of faith and almost four years ago open my own consulting firm and that’s what we do today. Here at 304 coaching and we get to help people create incredible talent strategies to match their business strategies.

ZH: Yeah, I love that we have a lot of similar journeys. Actually, I did retail too for quite a while and now I’m in HR these days and in the healthcare industry, so it’s different backgrounds obviously, but similar journey, similar passions.

Let’s jump into our topic today. because we’re talking about being addicted to right and the seven deadly sins of leadership. We are going to tackle this whole concept of leaders falling into this trap of being addicted to being right. Can you unpack that a little bit on what that means and how do we get to this point?

JT: The thing that’s really interesting about the human mind is, you know everything we do is really driven by chemical responses within our brain and what we know about the brain.  We’ve made some great learning breakthroughs over the last 20 years and new research continues to come out as we explore addiction.

Addiction is basically at its simplest form, a dopamine hit, so we get it from sugar or shopping, retail, whatever our addiction might be. We get a little dopamine hit and it makes us excited and happy. What we also know is you need a little bit more the next time to get that same high.

When we are right and we prove to someone that we know what to do and we’ve made a great decision. Guess what?

We also get that same exact dopamine hit!

Over time if we start to enjoy that dopamine hit a little too much, then the next time we have to be more right and we actually start to form an addiction to that dopamine hit for when we are right.

I think we all know that person that maybe we worked with early in their career and they were super smart and climbed the ladder fast and just always knew like how to tackle a project or do something, and then before we know it, we’re like, man, they’re just not even themselves anymore.

They used to be really open minded and collaborative, and now they’re combative and you can’t tell them the truth. That person obviously has become incredibly addicted to their own viewpoint and what’s important to them, and they start pressuring other people to believe what they want them to believe, and to think what they want them to think. They want everyone to fall in line and agree with everything that keeps their addiction going.

ZH: You know that’s a good point that it’s not necessarily that I wake up and I’m the bad guy, right. It’s a gradual process and I think that dopamine hit is underappreciated for his impact in steering our decisions both personally and professionally.

So how does the addiction to being right negatively influence relationships and results around them?

JT: It’s interesting when you start to think about these people and I’m sure all your listeners probably have somewhere in their mind instantly thinking, oh that’s what’s going on with that person, right? What we start to see is when that starts to happen in the workplace, it’s incredibly dangerous for the future of the organization, because when people stop telling the truth to their leaders, they start just agreeing to agree so that they’re not in trouble.

The leaders of your organizations then no longer know what’s important.

They no longer know the truth about your product or your customer, or the things you need to really run your business. We also find that there is a lot of punishment, so if you don’t think the way that I tell you to and you don’t talk the way I tell you to then you will be punished because you know you’re out of step in out of line.

We need people out of stepping out of line in the workplace, because that’s actually innovation, right? Innovation is stepping outside of that line, but if you’ve created this environment where you will be punished for stepping out of line because you know the executive or executives are so passionate about their beliefs, then it can be incredibly difficult.

I always use the example of Kodak.

They had the actual first digital camera, but their executives honestly said to the creator that no one would ever want to watch their pictures or will get their photos on the TV. So they thought it was a ridiculous idea and they shelved it. Now, Kodak is really no longer the Kodak that we all remember, and they walked away from that project because they had made assumptions and didn’t listen to the creators in their company.

ZH: That example really leans into some of the ideas about the seven deadly sins of Leadership, right? The seven deadly sins are often referred to across cultures across the world and you can tie those back to leadership pitfalls and traps. Just a refresher they are;

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth

Why don’t you pull out a couple of these in and talk about the impact that it has on leaders that you hear a lot about.

JT: we’ve already talked a little bit about Wrath. You know, “If you don’t think the way I think, there will be punishment.” You can see this in some meetings.

 If you’re a leader and you ask your team really difficult question and they all look at each other and don’t say a word they’re waiting for you to tell them how they are supposed to think.

The reason why is if they think incorrectly, you’re going to lash out to them and that’s one of the first signs of the consequences of wrath and one of the ones I see the most often as punishing people for not thinking the way you think.

When I think of sloth, one of the telltale signs of the addiction to being right is telling everyone how to do their job even though you have never done the job yourself. They have no idea how to do the other person’s job and they carry about saying. “You’ve got to do this and you should do that,” but they aren’t willing to do it themselves. They are so deep in their addiction they think they’re an expert in everything.

“Giving advice” but they’re not willing to do the work or actually learn it either.

Envy is another one. The brain actually enjoys status. It actually wants status, because status provides a validation, and confidence and allows your brain to feel safer to go out and explore and do better.

But when you’re addicted being right, you start to get so attached to feeling. You want to have status. You want people to be envious of you and that also starts to build overtime.

All the deadly sins of Leadership can begin to play in on each other.

ZH: As you think about leaders in your life and some of these concepts, it may be an “ah-ha” moment of realization on why the person acted the way that they did.  Our leader can become addicted to being right without even realizing it times, and that’s really what we started out with.

Our listeners may even see a little bit this in themselves as they hold up this concept of being addicted to being right to the proverbial mirror.

Let’s walk through some practical steps that we can begin to grow through this trap.

JT: When I think about this issue, we all have a little bit of it of these characteristics.  

  1. Watch your team around you, watch how they respond to you if you ask them a really challenging question about the business, one that you know where someone might be a little free to tell you the real truth.

If they don’t tell you the truth, you know you have a problem.

  • Put your team in a room and ask them, “What’s the one thing we did last year that wasn’t great for the business?” See if they actually tell you.  If they don’t, then there’s a good chance that you’ve created an environment where honesty is not popular.
  • The other thing too is I always ask leaders ask themselves as they’re driving home, “Did I learn something today from someone on my team?” If you aren’t learning from people that you’ve hired around you, then you’re probably hanging on to this addiction a little bit, or there’s a piece of it that we all have to manage.

The first step is to get your team to kind of like jolt out of it, right?

You have to kind of do something big for them to see that things might be changing around here or communication style might change.  One of my favorite exercise to do with clients is to have what I call a crazy idea meeting where you present a problem that needs to be solve.

In this example, maybe you have a product that’s down let’s say 5%

Tell your team, “Hey, at Thursday at this time we’re going to talk about how we can get our numbers up with product X.”

Now if you say to them, “We’re going to go brainstorm or I want your feedback,” you’ve instantly created fear and you’ve shut down their prefrontal cortex, which means they can’t actually think of new ideas.

If you’re that leader who thinks no one can think of new ideas, it’s because they’re in fear of you.

In the meeting let the team know that you want their ideas. You want ridiculous ideas! You want crazy ideas, and in fact you’re going to reward people for the most ridiculous ideas they bring to the table. That tells people that they are not going to be judged because they’re right or wrong.

If it’s really insane and impossible, celebrate it even more because you’re letting people know that things are changing and you can celebrate big thinking and big ideas.

Put all those ideas out there, and even though all those ideas may be impossible, what’s really cool is there’s going to be some underlying themes that you’re going to find. Things will start to fall out of that meeting that are actually really usable and they’ll come out in a way in which allows people to use their brain and tell the truth and help you start to stretch yourself and get used to people telling you the truth.

Get used to not knowing the answer and then after the meeting, give out of your awards. Hopefully it’s just a bragging right, right? That’s all people need is to brag that they had the idea.

Make sure that you send him a follow up email, thanking them for their time and then letting them know that you appreciated all of their ideas and their innovation and that you appreciate them speaking up.

ZH: I love that example and the intentionality to show people that you’re willing to change and that you’re willing to step out your comfort zone.

You need to recognize the addiction, because your team obviously recognizes it You’re providing affirmation with your team and encouraging them to be honest and giving them a chance to earn trust from you right as a leader.  It helps them see that they can put themselves out there in a weird or, crazy idea kind of way, and I’m be affirmed instead of being slapped on the wrist.

You talk about the strategy to combat the addiction to being right as part of this idea of conversational intelligence. Tell us a little bit more about what that means.

JT: Conversation intelligence is education. You may start to think about emotional intelligence, but conversation intelligence really goes one step further, and the reason that it starts to stretch you is because it starts to teach you.

When you think about the way that many of us were taught to lead was the idea that, “I’m the boss and I’m right and I have to have the answers.  I am the person offering you experiences and knowledge, not the other way around.”

It’s very fear based.

When we are in fear or are judged or feel like we might not be a part of the tribe, our brain kicks in and it’s that section that is built there to keep us alive.

Back in the day, you know it kept us in the cave and made sure we didn’t get eaten by the big Dinosaur. It kept you really safe and that’s its purpose.  In today’s world, your brain still tries to keep you safe, so if you’re at work and you start to feel judged or you are in fear for your job. Your primitive brain kicks in and your prefrontal cortex closes down.

It’s then much harder for you to learn because that’s the part of our brain where we learn. If you’re struggling at work and fearful for your job, it’s actually going to be even harder for you under this type of bad leader.

Conversation intelligence helps us understand how to use our language to create incredibly deep trusting conversations and to ask questions that we don’t know the answer to. It’s learning from people so that we can create environments where we get the most out of our team and our team is really high functioning and happy while doing a great job and creating great results.

ZH: It’s been such a great time understanding how our addiction to being can right can impact ourselves and those around us. Tell us how our baton carriers can find you out there and where they can connect with you.

JT: you can find us at 304coaching.com. We have a ton of resources. We even have a guide to having a crazy meeting, so hopefully, if you’re driving you didn’t take notes, just go down with the guide and connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to continue the conversation. You can find me at Jennifer Thornton ACC.

How to deal with aggressive people

How to deal with aggressive people

Someone recently asked the Reddit community why people are rude, loud and aggressive towards frontline employees in retail, food, and service industries. By far the most common answer was because they felt like it got results. You’ve likely run across this person at some point in your life and may even have this person in your work environment today. 

Tips to deal with aggressive people

  • Give them time to cool down. If possible don’t address in the heat of the moment. Give them a chance to cool down and then talk to the person. If this is not possible, move the person to another location and then address the situation. Pull them into a hallway, a different conference room, etc to remove them from the environment that they were in. 
  • Keep a healthy distance. Make sure that you are not violating their personal space (4ft +) when you talk to the person. Conversely, do not let the person invade your space. Step back or ask them to. Violating this space during this instance causes more non-verbal tension. 
  • State the impact of the behavior and your expectations. Start the conversation off by stating the impact of their behavior. How has the outburst hurt productivity, working relationships, and their reputation? What is your expectation on how they should respect you and other members of the team? Stay calm and don’t fight aggression with more aggression. 
  • Keep the spotlight on them. The person may try to shift the blame on others for their outbursts and behavior. Keep the focus on them and keep the power of the conversation.
  • Ask for commitment and don’t avoid conflict.  Once the situation calms down, ask the person for their commitment to cease the behavior. Again state your expectations and consequences should the behavior continue.  Don’t avoid conflict. You allow the behavior to go on, and passively approve of it when you fail to address it. 

Other things to do


In addition to dealing with an aggressive person, there are other things you should consider as well. 

Document incidents. You can do this in a number of ways, but I recommend emailing yourself and keeping a folder on it or creating an electronic copy that chronicles the behavior. With email, it will be timestamped when you send it, with an ongoing document, make sure that you include dates on individual incidents. 

Cataloging these incidents will help you recall them better if asked, gives you a written trail and can help you see just how big of a problem that it is. 

Involve HR. HR is there to protect your rights and to ensure that you are having a great employee experience. If the aggressor is your boss (or they aren’t addressing the issue), you may need need to reach out to a partner from the HR department. 

Tips for dealing with aggressive customers


First, acknowledge their anger and perceived slight. This often catches them off guard because they are expecting an argument or fight. Next, acknowledge how you’d feel in the situation and then move quickly to resolve the problem. Be sincere and authentic during the exchange, while keeping your cool. 

In-depth insight on conflict can be found in these past episodes:

#71 – Conflict Management
#108 – When your people drive you nuts
#116 – Lose the argument, win the person

The aggressor wants all of the control in the situation, even if they begin to lose control of themselves. Keep your power by being a calm, confident, and matter of fact leader. Document and involve others if needed to bring a long term solution.  You are stronger than the aggressor. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Thrive in a virtual workplace

Thrive in a virtual workplace

The year 2020 fundamentally changed how many go about doing their work!. In a matter of weeks, you may have found yourself going from visiting with the co-worker next to you to suddenly setting up a work station in your dining room. That sudden and sustained shift is stressful and its impact can be long felt on your professional and personal journey. 

With the right focus and attention, we can enjoy all the perks of working in a virtual environment and thrive to greater success. 

Keep focus in the chaos


Stay focused on your assigned tasks and responsibilities by avoiding distractions in your home. This one can be really challenging depending on your home situation. Your significant other, kids, TVs, streaming, social media, and other things all tug at your attention throughout the day. Be creative and set up a good working environment the best that you can.

Keep your calendar updated to provide structure in both your home and work environment. Scheduling both sides of your life ensures that one is not a distraction for the other. You don’t want that grocery list or messy kitchen to be a day-long distraction on your work. 

If you have children doing virtual school, help them with a similar setup so they can stay focused on their school work. We live in an older house and converted our formal dining area into a school space for both our kids. We weren’t sure how it would work, but it turned out great for both in the end. 

Build and protect work routines and boundaries


It’s very easy to let your work and life blur together when you work in a virtual environment. I have spent the last 7 years working out of a home office to various degrees and it is always something that I have had to be mindful of.

Success comes down to setting and protecting boundaries, otherwise, you’ll find yourself sitting down for just a minute to do something only to lose a couple of hours of personal time as you continue on in your work. Things will no doubt pop up after hours that may require your immediate attention. Obviously address those, but let them be the exception and not the norm. 

If the people that work with you know that you have no boundaries, they will likely take advantage of it whether they know it or not. It could come in texts, emails, or calls that normally wouldn’t take place if you had a good set of boundaries. 

Communicate often and with intent


Since you may not see your leader all the time anymore, you need to be intentional about communicating with them. Set up a weekly check-in time and also update them throughout the week on your projects and outstanding items. it will help both of you when your leader has a good sense of where you are in your work. 

Keep an open line of communication with your peers as well. Head off a sense of isolation by staying in touch with those you work with. Find out what’s going on in their personal life and how you can help them in their professional life. 

Be transparent with your leader about your journey


No one is perfect and no one should expect perfection from you in your virtual work environment. Breakthrough the pleasantries with your leader and stay transparent and authentic in the struggles that you may be facing in your situation. It’s always great if you can bring a potential solution along with a problem to your leader, but sometimes you are at a total loss and simply don’t know what the solution could be. Don’t let that hold you back from talking to your leader. They need and want to know. 

A leader can’t lead and help if they don’t know that you need a hand. 

Follow these tips to keep a focused workspace where you feel connected with others and good boundaries to feel a great work-life rhythm. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Communicating the technical to non-technical people w/ Aman Agarwal

Communicating the technical to non-technical people w/ Aman Agarwal

We are honored this week to have Aman Agarwal, the president of SANPRAM, to sit down to talk about how to communicate technical concepts and terms to non-technical people. Aman shares several actionable concepts to help any leader be a better communicator with those that they work with and are looking to influence.

ZH 

Thank you so much Aman for joining us! 

AA 

Thanks for having me! 

ZH 

Yeah, so tell us a little bit before we jump into our topic about this. This whole concept of communication. We’ll talk about the whole hurdles and all that in a minute. I don’t wanna spoil the show before we get going, but tell our baton carriers really across the world, just a short synopsis about your journey as a leader, and then maybe some things that you’re working on right now.  

AA 

I was an engineer building self-driving trucks and other stuff in silicon valley. Before that, I was a B2B sales guy for some large tech companies. Now I run an education company that helps non-technical entrepreneurs and executives how to be more technical fluent while they build technical companies.  

ZH 

Yeah, that’s the big switch! So how did you make the switch from doing self-driving vehicles to leading an education and training company? 

AA 

While I was working among engineers and salespeople, I realized that there was a huge communication gap between the two sides. You talk to engineers and sales guys, both were saying that the other guys were stupid. It’s pretty comical. In parallel, I was also teaching as a hobby online and I was writing these long-form essays online at medium that explained cutting edge technology in simple layman words and those got really popular. That helped me realize my true passion was in teaching technical concepts. It just so happened that during COVID that I realized that this gap is real, and I can help to bridge it.  So I started SANPRAM to do just that.  

ZH 

Very cool. Well, let’s jump into this whole idea of communication, right? So how to connect the technical for non-technical people. You know, there’s always going to be a communication hurdle for leaders and organizations to conquer. I think about a new leader that needs to learn about their team’s communication preferences, how those people process information, and then we add in the complexities like remote work and COVID as well as new agendas or technology that you’re going to speak to. It’s a lot right!   So when you look at leaders in companies that are been successful is because of how they successfully communicate and connect with others.  

I think that leaders sometimes struggle when they don’t know how to conquer that communication hurdle at times, and specifically when it comes around this technology piece that you’re an expert in.  Many people may say “You get it or you don’t, or they’re idiots and I’m the smart one in the room”, but what are some ways that we can adapt their communication that a leader can adapt their communication to meet their audience? You had some fun things on medium, some drawings of kitchens and stuff like that. So let’s dive into that. Some practical pieces today. 

AA 

The goal if you’re a leader, at least how I think of it, if you’re a leader or a manager and your goal in communication with the people that you are working for is three things:  

1) Clarity with respect to what they are supposed to do and what’s expected of them.  

2) Agreement with the direction. Do they understand what they have to do once they leave the meeting? It’s surprisingly common how that’s not really clear. I know what I’m supposed to do and I know what’s expected of me, but do I agree where this is going? What’s the high-level strategy here? Where is this project going and why?  

If you are clear on the former but not on the latter, then you’ll slowly become demotivated and lost. You may think, “You know, I’m doing this thing, but let look at a job board and Linkedin and see what else is interesting and happening out there.  

4) Buy-in to the vision and direction. 

These three things become your North Star in communication, especially when you are explaining a technical concept to non-technical people.  This provides you clarity in the direction that you need to go.  

The best way that I like to think about taking a person through this journey is to tell a story. Storytelling the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy and communication behavior. This idea comes from my background in filmmaking. Filmmakers are really good at communicating their stories. You enter a cinema, and the film is happening in a completely different universe than the one that you are living in, but by the end of the film you feel like you live in that universe yourself. You are friends with the characters, you know what going on, you feel the same things that they do. Filmmakers are really good at pulling you into a narrative by making you one of the protagonist of that story and really draw you in by revealing information piece by piece and building the whole world around you that makes you comfortable to live there. 

That whole storytelling ethos that I learned as a filmmaking student forms the way that I teach today. All of my essays are all about stories, stories, stories.  

ZH 

You bring up a point in some of your essays too. I’m thinking about drawing from something that the audience already knows right to deliver that powerful message. Talk to us about that because that’s a great strategy talked about. You know, leading them along a journey rather than pulling them to you. You talk about the illustrations about the kitchen and some of that other stuff that you have in your essays. 

AA 

The analogy that I like to use is if you are telling a story then the story has to begin in a very familiar place to the listener. If you are reading Harry Potter (or watching the movies) you start in the cupboard under the stairs where there is a boy doing his own thing…and it’s all very familiar. Everything that you introduce from here on from the ogre smashing in the door to the magic wands is gradual. You slowly get used to new concepts as you go along the story.  

When I talk about how computers work, I use the example of a kitchen that has a cook, some storage place, counter space, ingredients, and recipes. I then relate the idea to technical terms, so an ingredient is data, and a recipe is a software program and then I spin the narrative in a direction where the person no longer needs to remember that I’m not talking about food. They can absurd the vocabulary as it comes in.  

ZH 

I just love the idea of really connecting it from their point of view, by going to them and starting where they are and meeting them at their own starting place to get your message across. Whether it’s the kitchen analogy or even the Harry Potter example that you have. You start out where they are, and yeah, I can relate to you in an odd way. A kid hanging out of his house and then also in this crazy stuff happens and then it’s like, oh, it’s totally fine that there’s a Hawk with horse, legs and everything else so. 

You know another point that you bring up is this whole idea of considering the words and the level that you communicate with others. So avoiding over technical and overuse of language. 

AA 

I think there is a huge risk in corporate cultures where you want to sound smarter and more sophisticated. In scientific literature, this has reached unprecedented levels. Research papers are much harder to read today than they were 50 –60 years ago.  

I’ve had experiences myself where my academic advisors would tell me, “Hey, you are using very simple language, nobody is going to take your research project very seriously if you talk like this. You want to make it sound very cool.” I dislike the whole culture that this creates and I think that the jargon that you use should only be as complex as it takes to get the message across. If you are losing your audience then you may want to reconsider the way that you are communicating.  

ZH 

Yeah, that’s so true. Yeah, I coached leaders and organizations all the time on just simplify, simplify, simplify. I think sometimes we and, probably in the academic world, try to validate ourselves through our words by using these grandiose words that make us sound more important than we are. 

You’re right, it’s really about just about connecting the message. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The best messages are those stories and memorable pieces and simple things that we latch onto. 

So you talk about leading the people down to a conclusion instead of trying to drag them to your position and challenging people to take small steps. You talk about this whole I + 1 concept and how you can build out people’s technical knowledge and understanding. Share a little bit about this and how we can apply that to what we’re doing today. 

AA 

I + 1 is a concept called Comprehensible Input. It’s a concept that has been borrowed from the world of foreign language learning. I personally am big or foreign languages. I’m learning my fourth language right now after English, French, and Chinese. It’s all about the idea that you can only absorb knowledge when it’s just a little bit out of your comfort zone, but it’s not so far out of your comfort zone that you feel like you are reading hieroglyphics or you’re listening to some exotic language where you are falling back on the subtitles. If it’s too comfortable then you aren’t really expanding your fluency.  

Language acquisition, and the same for any technical knowledge or concept, is about starting with a small body of words or concepts and then expanding them one by one.  

The “I” is your starting point, and you are adding one thing at a time. So, it compounds over time and before you realize it you’ve become exponentially better.  It’s like the game Tetris. As the bricks keep falling into place, they become like scaffolding so that new pieces are easier to put into their place. So instead of dropping a huge block into your memory, and you think, “I can’t take this, I’m going to reject this whole thing…” 

ZH 

Game over instantly! 

AA 

Yes! It’s game over! Instead, you want to build it piece by piece to build that scaffolding so that whatever knowledge you have right now becomes the framework that you can add new knowledge on top of.  

ZH 

It’s very relatable because it’s a small concept where instead of trying to teach me what an engineer does or what a developer does, or whatever else outside my general expertise……it’s not me trying to learn their whole job or that whole culture or circle. Let me just learn a term here, term there, and start to connect the dots that way so that as I grow my knowledge, I can sit down in a meeting and speak intelligently about this or communicate right back to that person. 

It’s going back to meeting the person where they are. So now it makes total sense. I love the idea of gaining a little piece of just understanding each time. if you try to jump in the deep end it’s it is that game over mentality for sure.  

AA 

Even more than words, it’s more about the concept and the narrative.  

Why does this technology exist? What does it mean? Then the jargon begins to fall into place quickly. The jargon is easy to remember once you know what that jargon is about.  

ZH 

So you know when we think about communicating, what are some of the reasons that we miss that communication connection with the other person? What keeps us from from bridging that gap? 

AA 

This comes from both sides, the technical and non-technical sides, and CTOs (Chief Technical Officer) who go to the board meeting and they start talking about the sausage factory that they are running and then they realize that nobody cares about how you are making the sausages.  

The key is empathy and the willingness to become aware of the other person’s perspective. This becomes another “I” in the I +1 concept based on what you think that they care about. You then slowly guide them towards what you care about.  

So, if you need to talk to the finance person about technology you say it in a way that connects with them. Instead of “We aren’t adding any new features,” you say, “Last year 80% of the features that we added weren’t used by the customers. This year we are going to be more intentional about which features we greenlight, so engineers are only spending time and money on things that lead to more revenue.” 

Look for ways to bridge the gap with empathy with others.  

ZH 

I love that.  We actually just did a whole little mini-series on empathy recently.  We did a show on understanding empathyone on tips, and then one on hurdles that keep us from being empathetic to others. So great connection my friend to some previous shows not too long ago. 

So, let’s talk about one last tip in communication. We’ve talked extensively at Passing the Baton about the power of storytelling. You’ve referenced that a couple of times today, and you’ve really leaned into that experience you’ve had in film, and storyboarding too, in a way to build a story to communicate to others. So how can a leader apply that concept in how we communicate with others?  

AA 

When you go up to the stage and you give a PowerPoint presentation, one thing that you can do is to avoid a huge amount of data or information on one slide. It’s not I +1, it’s more like 1+ 100! Instead of showing a whole flow chart, you start with the first block. It’s like the first frame of a movie. On the next slide, you have the first block and the next block, so the audience can absorb the info and begin to see what’s coming. Think of it like an animator moving the pieces around instead of just changing out to totally different pictures.  

You want to go through your story without overloading your audience, so you don’t lose them altogether.  

ZH 

Yeah, I was notoriously resentful of the whole PowerPoint Presentations anyway, because people lean too much on it. In my couple of last years, I’ve had to use PowerPoint more so I understand the power of it when it’s used the right way.  

I talk to people about thinking about your presentations as a story from point A to point B and it really helps people dial in the details in the polish to make a great presentation. Storytelling helps turns your presentation from one that’s meh to one that’s over the top and memorable. That’s what we need when we’re presenting to people; something memorable that they can hold onto and can relate to. 

Thank you so much for you hanging out with us today. Before we jump off, tell us where we can find you on the web. 

AA 

The best resource will be our site SANPRAM.com When you go there, the listener will see the free resources and essays that we have that they can use to improve their own technical fluently. If they like what they are learning they, can sign up for more! 

ZH 

Thank you so much for hanging out. Love the connection pieces of connecting the non-technical with the technical. Appreciate you! 

The habits that close the gap in remote work

The habits that close the gap in remote work

One of the challenges of remote work is that there are fewer opportunities for everything. There may be little to no chances to just hang out with your co-works or team anymore. Certainly fewer opportunities exist to have an impromptu brainstorming or problem-solving session. 

With fewer opportunities to connect and grow together, it’s important for you as a leader to have good operational behaviors to close the virtual gap between you and your team. 

Have one-on-ones with your team


It’s important to schedule a regular cadence to check-in individually with your people. For newer ones, they should be very frequent (multiple times a week), for your more experienced members perhaps it’s weekly or even bi-weekly depending on the need and scope of work. 

One-on-ones are very productive because it offers your team members a chance to address things that have come up between meetings. I have mine weekly and typically write out a list ahead of time of things to cover or updates to give. Some items may include important project updates, non-critical people issues, questions on clarity, and updates from previous topics.  

Always open the meeting on a personal note and avoid jumping straight into business unless you meet very frequently and/or you are both pressed for time. The thing you open with first is your most important topic. Show your people that they are important connecting with them before you start with the business topics at hand. 

Have an open calendar


People can get weird about calendars. Whether it’s a feeling of invasion of privacy or they lack trust in others, some people choose to keep their calendars locked down so that no one can see them. As a leader, you should at least open up your calendar for your team to see and ask them to do the same for you.  This will give you both a chance to look and schedule time together without a bunch of back and forth beforehand. 

You can always keep certain events and time private if you need to. Look for the privacy setting when you create an event, it will typically mark the time as busy or unavailable when others see your calendar. 

Be on time


Does your day consist of going from meeting to meeting? It can be hard to keep yourself on schedule for the day when each meeting has an X factor of talking heads and oversharing.  Do your best to end the meeting on time so you can be on time for the next one. It shows you respect the other person’s time and have them as a priority. 

I typically watch the time in my meeting and then give us a verbal warning if I don’t feel like we are going to wrap up on time. I may say something like, “Alright, we have five minutes left. What follow-up is needed as we wrap up this topic?” If there are outstanding items still to cover, schedule more time later to discuss and follow-up on. 

Knock it out now


With fewer opportunities to pop-in on one another, it’s more important to make decisions in the moment. Don’t make a rash or ill-informed judgment call, but do your best to provide an answer, direction, and clarity in the moment. 

Provide an answer to someone when they ask for it, rather than putting it off unless it requires further follow-up or knowledge gathering. Every time you delay a decision or push the topic until later on, you are hitting the pause button on that action item. Because of the nature of remote work, you’ve likely just stopped all progress on the topic whether you realized it or not. 

Take care of questions and decisions in the moment if at all possible. 

You can be a great leader in the booming age of remote work. Carry the proper mindset and build strong operational behaviors to lead your team, and yourself, well. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Continue your journey in remote work and leadership: The Mentality that closes the gap in remote work.

The mentality that closes the gap in remote work

The mentality that closes the gap in remote work

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 virus in the human population. We have lived through one of the most devastating events that have happened in the history of humanity, and one area that has fundamentally changed is how we go about doing our work. More people than ever are doing remote work. 

Leaders should be aware of the natural gap that is created in this remote environment and adapt the right mentality to meet the new demand. 

Carry a clear perspective  


While you’ll have a natural pull towards people on your team that you have a lot in common with, or people that are high performers with high potential, remember to treat everyone like they are winners and they matter. I have seen some leaders truly shine and this is one of their secrets. I’ve had this leader in my life as well and it’s both affirming and aspiring. I know that she really appreciates and values me, and I also know that she gives that same love and support to others on the team. 

Make them feel like there is no one winner. Make them all feel like winners. 

Know your people well


Another mindset in order to close the virtual gap is to know your people well. Take the relationship past the transactional and business at hand, and get to know those around you.

  • Understand what motivates them on a personal level (Not just at work).
  • Gain a level of mutual respect where you both are free to share more vulnerable parts about your life. What are some things that you struggle with, avoid, or need help on?
  • Learn the person’s body language. As long as you have those cameras on during the meetings, you should still be able to lean into this aspect of reading a person somewhat. 
  • Know about their loved ones. This can look different depending on the person and life stage. Regardless of whether it’s a best friend or a spouse and kids, learn those people’s names and ask about them when interacting with your team. 

Knowing people well helps you dial in your message and direction that meets the person right where they are. This mindset becomes a weather forecaster for people. You’ll start to see signs of an impending change or struggle in a person before it fully manifests itself. 

Trust & Empower


Do you want to save yourself some time, make your team feel better about their job, and lower your stress? Empower your people as they work in a virtual environment. 

Give your team members responsibilities and trust them to do great things. This will help you re-allocate your time from doing tasks that you shouldn’t do to doing extra coaching, mentoring, and development time. 

Assume that your people are coming to you with the best intentions and that there is a legitimate need when they ask for it. Value your people and the fact that they are seeking your guidance and help. Always start from a positive place in your interactions. 

Affirm and Confirm


With an avalanche of emails, you might tend to let the trail drop once a resolution is sent. Great remote leaders take the time to send one last confirmation that word of thanks to the other person(s). 

This may seem trivial, but these small gestures add up to a big deal in the long term. You are reinforcing that you are responsive and attentive towards your team and colleagues.  Always end an email chain on a positive note. Remember that minor things matter. 

Having the right mentality makes all the difference when you are leading your remote team. Trust and empower your people and help them keep the right perspective.

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH